|Betye Saar's The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972. Photo via Netropolitan.org|
One woman who played a prominent role in the postwar Los Angeles art scene was Betye Saar, an artist who is best known for her assemblage pieces depicting themes of racial pride, spirituality, and ancestral history. Saar created her works with objects she collected in her travels to places such as Mexico, Europe, and Haiti as well as flea markets around Los Angeles. The artist is one of several featured in Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, an exhibition currently on view at UCLA's Hammer Museum as part of Pacific Standard Time. Saar seamlessly wove found objects with those of significance to her own family, thus placing her personal legacy within a larger historical context. She also collected racist memorabilia, giving figures and images trapped in stereotypical roles new and more empowering meaning, thus "liberating" the characters, and in turn the hearts and minds of African Americans. Her repurpose of this memorabilia reflected a new consciousness that was beginning to take hold in Black America, which was in a state of great change from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.
|Detail of Bittersweet (Bessie Smith) by Betye Saar. Image via Courteney Elizabeth Graham|
Los Angeles was also home to Asco, a Chicano conceptual multimedia performance art group active from the late 1960s through the 1980s. The Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art is presenting Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1982-1987. The name Asco comes from the spanish phrase 'me da asco', or 'it disgusts me.' Asco had two female founding members: Patssi Valdez and Diane Gamboa.
|Patssi Valdez and Harry Gamboa, Jr. in Asco's Instant Mural performance. Photo via bombsite.com|
Asco staged thought provoking performance actions on the streets of L.A., and were greatly influenced by events and daily life in their community of East Los Angeles. Asco's Instant Mural was a direct response to the Chicano Mural Movement, in which murals were being created around the city depicting uplifting scenes of community strength, racial pride, and ties to indigenous roots. With Instant Mural, Asco expanded the idea of what Chicano art was. Patssi Valdez was at the center of many of Asco's performances, while Diane Gamboa worked behind the scenes as "consultant, stylist, and referee."